Honest travel history declarations are one of the most important factors in preventing another coronavirus outbreak in the city, the Health Bureau (SSM) stressed on Tuesday, after it announced that one mainland tourist had been dishonest in the declaration but managed to enter and exit Macau.
At Tuesday’s daily press conference, Leong Iek Hou, the coordinator of the SSM’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced that a mainland tourist had managed to enter Macau without declaring previous travel in South Korea within the last 14 days.
The Zhuhai CDC disclosed the case to its Macau counterpart on Monday under the regional communication mechanism. It is not clear how the Zhuhai entity learned of the person’s travel history.
The suspicious person flew from Incheon, South Korea, to Shenyang, Liaoning province of China, on March 3. Two days later, the person flew to Zhuhai and entered Macau that evening.
The current immigration measures enacted in Macau require all who have been to severely affected areas, such as South Korea, Italy and Japan, to make an honest declaration about their travel history, and undergo quarantine at Pousada Marina Infante.
Upon receiving the notice, the SSM reviewed the health declaration submitted by the case and found no mention of the travel history to South Korea. The health authority reported the incident to the Public Security Police Force (PSP) for investigation.
According to the Contagious Disease Prevention and Treatment Law, making a false health declaration may lead to six months’ imprisonment, or a fine that equates to a maximum of 60 days.
The PSP acted promptly and traced the suspicious case, sending them to Pousada Marina Infante for quarantine. It was later learned that the case entered Macau with a mainland Chinese passport, which suggests that they may overstay their visa in order to complete the quarantine period.
The PSP explained that further arrangement may be made with regards to the situation. Now that the investigation has concluded, relevant documents are with the Public Prosecutions Office for review.
The reliability of the self-declaration scheme has previously been called into question. With global travel common, quick and affordable, people are curious to learn how the local authorities plan to close down predictable loopholes.
Macau’s health authority has been emphasizing that efforts on the containment of contagious diseases should not only rely on the government. The participation of the general public is crucial.
In previous press conferences, both the SSM and the PSP have reiterated the importance of honest health declarations. It has also been repeatedly stressed that failing to be honest is a criminal offence. Although the individual in the aforementioned cases now faces prosecution, the deterrent effect of the health declaration mechanism on future entrants remains unclear.
“How have we achieved 35 days with zero new infections?” asked Leong at Tuesday’s press conference. “It relied on the diligence of the public.”
“We have been using a wide range of channels to stress the importance of honest declaration,” added the coordinator. “There will be loopholes, of course, but I have introduced that we have strong connections with other cities in the region.”
In addition to its direct communication channels with other cities within the region, Macau can also make use of the World Health Organization (WHO) network.
For example, in previous outbreaks of Japanese encephalitis and measles, countries with an epidemic notified Macau through the People’s Republic of China, under the WHO communication mechanism.
“We try our best to close loopholes at different levels, but still, the most important point is that the general public honestly declare their travel history,” Leong said at last.
She made no comment on the possibility that the person who falsely declared their travel history and entered Macau might have infected others during their time in the city.